Researchers from the Wellcome Sanger Institute (UK) and ETH Zurich have now developed a first-of-its-kind comprehensive map of the network of connections that make up the human immune system, clearly showcasing how immune cells link up and communicate. The new map highlights the individual cell types, messengers, and relative speed of each conversation taking place between immune cells.
The tool could revolutionize how researchers approach drug development and treatment therapies.
“This research has produced an incredible new tool that can be used to help highlight which proteins and pathways would be beneficial to target in drug development. It can also give insight into whether a drug will have an impact on other pathways, which can cause side effects,” said Professor Berend Snijder, a co-author and professor from the Institute of Molecular Systems Biology at ETH Zürich.
The understanding that the new map provides is particularly vital to developing treatments that enhance the immune system in order to fight disease, known as immunotherapies. This is because the map also highlights the discovery of many previously unknown interactions that together shed light on the organization of the body’s immune defenses.
“Immunotherapies have already demonstrated great potential in treating disease, most notably with certain cancers. However, these only work well in certain groups of patients and for particular conditions. Knowing the map of immune receptor connections could help explain why immunotherapies sometimes only work in a subset of patients and offer new targets for designing future immunotherapies that may work for patients who currently do not benefit from these treatments,” state the researchers in their press release.